Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Finding Somewhere to Live - Part II

Whilst back in Switzerland after New Year, and still awaiting further news from the estate agent, Nelly informed us that one of her colleagues owned several apartments in Lausanne and the surrounding areas, and that she had mentioned one that had become available in Bussigny, a village to the west of Lausanne. The price fitted into our budget, and it was described as a 3 pi├Ęce, so it sounded pretty good.

What sounded good turned out to look great – Bussigny itself is a nice little village, and the apartment was fantastically well positioned being only a 3 minute walk to the train station, plus local shops, bakers, butchers and restaurants only a short stroll from the apartment.

The building consisted of just six apartments, spread over three floors, making a nice chance from some of the more densely populated areas of Lausanne that we had visited previously. Nelly’s colleague, Anita, let us into the apartment and we could immediately see the potential.

It had three, good-sized rooms that could be used as a bedroom, living room plus a spare room, and a nice sized kitchen that was separate from the other rooms (so not open plan, basically). Anita told us that the rooms themselves were going to be redecorated, with the walls and ceilings being painted, and that the floor in the hallway would also be re-tiled.

The kitchen was in the middle of being completely re-done – they had taken all the old furniture, cookers, fridges, etc, out to be replaced with brand new items, and also planned to redo the walls and the tiled floor. It may have looked like a bomb-site while we visited, but we saw past that and imagined the shiny, new kitchen that would be fitted in the near future.

The apartment had further pleasant surprises for us too – firstly, it had a “cave”, an area of the basement specifically for the tenant to use for storage. Second, it had a huge balcony, measuring some 7.3m in length. Christelle and I both envisaged placing a BBQ and a table and chairs out on the balcony, to help us enjoy the upcoming summer even more. Finally, whilst standing on the balcony, Anita pointed to an area of garden in front of us and said that would be ours to plant our own vegetables – a 6m x 2m patch of allotment for us to attempt to grow our own produce.

We were ecstatic with the apartment and the amazing potential that it held. Although the kitchen was a mess and the walls and ceilings needed a fresh lick of paint, the thought of making this place our home excited both of us, and we didn’t hesitate in telling Anita that we were interested. Luckily, Anita is a very nice lady, and said that she would let us have the apartment without looking to advertise its availability elsewhere – the real benefit of renting directly from the property owner, instead of going through an estate agent.

She told us that they planned to have the apartment ready in February so we could rent it from the 1st March, and we agreed to this. It certainly beat the other apartment in Lausanne hands down, so it turns out that the delay in getting news over Christmas was a blessing in disguise, proving that good things come to those who wait.

Whilst signing the contract for the apartment, Anita told us that she had received interest from someone else, who had offered to pay more rent than she had agreed with us – the cheeky bugger! Fortunately for us, Anita is a lady with integrity, and she refused their offer, having already agreed the rent the apartment to us. It just goes to show that some people are really desperate to rent certain apartments, and will go to any lengths to get what they want.

We made a repeat visit to take measurements of the various rooms in the apartment, so that we could start planning the furniture we wanted in each room. This was something that we were really excited about, as we had never had the chance to make somewhere entirely “ours” – the previous places we rented in England were furnished or part-furnished, so the furniture was not a reflection of our own style. The Bussigny apartment was empty, and that meant everything we put in it would be according to our taste, so we were looking forward to getting started.

The following weekend we wandered around IKEA, to get an idea of what style we wanted for each room in the new apartment. We had opted for a dark brown wood colour for the bed, wardrobe and chest of drawers in the bedroom, but could not find what we wanted for the living room in IKEA (apart from the grey sofa we selected). On the way home we visited Fly, Casa, Interiors and Interio, all shops that sell furniture in Switzerland.

Picking up catalogues from each one, we made our way back home to browse through them. Chris had found some very nice furniture for our living room in the Fly catalogue, and I agreed that this would look good in our apartment. The next day Bernard and I spent some time on the computer making scale plans of each room in the apartment, along with the furniture we were interested in. We were pleased to see that the furniture we wanted would actually fit in each room, and so we made our minds up to go for the items we had selected.

That week we returned to IKEA to enquire about the availability of the bed, wardrobe, chest of drawers and sofa. Our original plan had been to rent a van for an hour to make the quick trip from IKEA to Bussigny and back, but unfortunately it would not turn out to be as simple as that. The problem is that IKEA do not keep a constant stock of their larger items of furniture, such as the sofa and the wardrobe.

They also could not tell us when they would actually have each item available in store, so that meant we might rent a van on a particular day only to find that IKEA didn’t have what we wanted, effectively meaning we might pay money to rent a van for nothing. The alternative proposed by IKEA was for home delivery, although they don’t actually deliver the goods themselves, instead contracting another company to do this for them.

We were shocked by the price for delivery – 10% of the goods we had ordered, which we knew would be fairly expensive given that we were ordering large items of furniture. However, at least with delivery we could guarantee that we would receive the items, instead of running the risk of wasting money on renting vans. So, we went for the delivery option, aiming for the middle of February.

At the end of January, Anita contacted us to say that they had finished all the repairs and redecoration at the apartment, so we could actually have the keys earlier than expected. Fantastic news, we thought, although we knew that we wouldn’t be able to live in the apartment just yet as we didn’t have any furniture.

We popped over to the apartment to have a look at the newly refurbished kitchen, and were very pleased with the results.

Considering that it looked like a bombsite at our last visit, it now seemed a very nice room to be in and had brand new appliances - including a dishwasher, for the lazy person within us.

Having access to the apartment meant we now had time to move all our things in, and start accumulating the rest of the furniture from there.

Speaking of accumulating furniture, we decided to pop into Fly to pick up the living room furniture – a TV table, a coffee table, and a cabinet. Luckily, all of the items we wanted were in stock at their depot, so we could pick them up that day. Fly also allow you to rent a van from their depot for one hour to drop your new furniture off at home, so we signed up for this option.

One thing I didn’t consider, however, was that this meant I would need to drive a van, whose size is completely unfamiliar to me (after all, I am only used to driving my tiny Peugeot 106), and that has the steering wheel on the wrong side of the vehicle. I was petrified of damaging the van, and therefore costing us the 200 CHF deposit we had to give to Fly, especially after my experiences of renting a van in England (a story that involves reversing a rental van into a wooden post and then parking it next to a bush so the rental company didn’t see the damage when collecting the vehicle).

Regardless, I had no choice but to drive the van, so I very carefully edged it out onto the road, and drove ridiculously slowly all the way back to our apartment. I’m sure I annoyed quite a few other drivers on the road that afternoon, but I only cared about getting the furniture back in one piece, and then handing the van back to Fly without the need for repairs.

Having dropped the cartons of furniture off in our empty apartment, I decided to return the following day to start building them. Fly supply furniture in a similar flat-packed form to IKEA, but that’s where the similarity ends. Whilst IKEA furniture is generally very well thought out and comes with easy to follow assembly instructions, Fly furniture is not particularly well designed and has instruction manuals that make “War & Peace” seem like light reading.

I started with the coffee table, which was the easiest of the bunch by far, as I only really had to screw the legs onto the pre-built body of the table. So far so good, job done in pretty quick time. Then I proceeded to start working on the TV table. This was considerably more challenging than the coffee table, partly because a lot of the pieces look the same, and also because – and this is really not helpful – Fly don’t make all the holes for you.

I had to force certain screws into position in a “best guess” kind of way, including holding the skirting board of the table in place (and level) while I pushed screws in to fix it in place. Not easy at all.

After finishing the TV table, I turned to the last item on my list – the cabinet. This was the biggest of the three pieces of furniture, and therefore I reasoned it would also be the most difficult. Boy was I right about that. I set about reading the manual and building the basic pieces of the cabinet and after about an hour or so things began to take shape. As with the TV table, I had the arduous task of trying to attach pieces of wood together by creating holes myself.

The biggest pain with this piece of furniture was the large wooden board that formed the top of the cabinet – when I lowered it into place, it seemed to be bowed in the middle, meaning it was not sitting level on the frame of the cabinet. Annoyed, I got Chris to sit on top to push it down as best as possible while I forced more screws in to try to lock it in place. It still wasn’t level, but at least it was a bit better than before. Finally, after close to four hours of construction, I built the drawers and attempted to lift the first one into place. That’s when I noticed that something was seriously wrong – the drawer did not fit.

Puzzled, I removed the drawer, checked that I had assembled it correctly, and then tried to insert it once again. It still didn’t fit. I re-read the instructions and then tried inserting the same drawer into the other drawer spaces, but it didn’t fit in any of them. I then tried to slide in one of the other drawers in case the problem was with the first drawer, but this also didn’t fit.

By now very concerned, I checked the instructions and matched them against the cabinet. I couldn’t see any way that I had made a mistake, as everything about the cabinet was exactly as written in the instruction manual. The only thing I could think of was that the frame for the front of the cabinet, that has slots for the drawers to fit through, must have been made incorrectly – this came pre-assembled from Fly, so it was not my fault.

Chris and I were very disappointed and annoyed at wasting several hours building what turned out to be an unusable cabinet. We quickly took a few photos of the cabinet, grabbed the instructions and headed to Fly to complain about the product and find out what we could do to get this sorted out. We knew that it could not really be disassembled and put together again, due to the fact that we had to create holes in the wood, so we were concerned that Fly would not take the almost-finished yet faulty item back, leaving us considerably out of pocket on a piece of furniture that we could not use.

Having discussed the problem at length with a representative of Fly at their depot, they agreed for us to bring the faulty cabinet back so they could investigate the problem and see whether it was a manufacturing fault or me who had cocked up. They let us take one of their vans, which I drove again – I was getting used to it by now.

We quickly drove home where we noticed that the guys at Fly had put a new, un-made version of the cabinet in the back of the van, which we presumed must have been for us as a straight swap even if the Fly guy, who was pretty white for a Fly guy (get it?) didn’t actually tell us that. We unloaded the new cabinet in the apartment, then heaved the faulty one into the van, and drove back to Fly.

The guys there took the cabinet into their depot, and told us “that was fine”. Surprised that they were not going to investigate whether my carpentry skills (or lack of them) were to blame, we said “Thanks” and hurriedly drove back home before they could give it a second thought. Relieved to have a new version of the cabinet, we now had to start building it all over again.

Not wanting to risk spending another four hours assembling the cabinet only to find ourselves in the same mess as before, we asked Bernard if he would be able to give us a hand at building it. The next day he came round and meticulously studied the instruction manual, before we methodically set about constructing the cabinet. Approximately three hours later, we had finished. Although the wooden board on top was as bowed as the previous one, at least the drawers fitted.

Relieved and exhausted, we thanked Bernard for his help by giving him beer and a nice dinner. Finally, the buildable items of our living room furniture were finished, and their presence gave the room a more homely feel, allowing us to really imagine what living there would be like. Of course, we couldn’t really sit for a long time in our living room as we didn’t have a sofa or chairs, but just standing inside the first room to be partially finished in our new home was a great feeling.

Preparations for our new home continue in "Finding Somewhere to Live - Part III".

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